Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

The Onion

Garlic on Onion.
This image appears here with the kind permission of the photographer,
Katrin Eismann, PhotoshopDiva.

After I read this poem by Wisława Szymborska, I knew I had to read more of her material. I love the way that she plays with words. This is even more amazing when one realizes that all of her poetry is translated from Polish. It takes tremendous skill to retain her poetic playfulness and phrasing while also making the poem accessible in another language!

The Onion
by Wisława Szymborska

The onion, now that’s something else.
Its innards don’t exist.
Nothing but pure onionhood
fills this devout onionist.
Oniony on the inside,
onionesque it appears.
It follows its own daimonion
without our human tears.

Our skin is just a coverup
for the land where none dare go,
an internal inferno,
the anathema of anatomy.
In an onion there’s only onion
from its top to its toe,
onionymous monomania,
unanimous omninudity.

At peace, of a piece,
internally at rest.
Inside it, there’s a smaller one
of undiminished worth.
The second holds a third one,
the third contains a fourth.
A centripetal fugue.
Polyphony compressed.

Nature’s rotundest tummy,
its greatest success story,
the onion drapes itself in its
own aureoles of glory.
We hold veins, nerves, and fat,
secretions’ secret sections.
Not for us such idiotic
onionoid perfections.

From Poems New and Collected, 1957-1997 (NYC: Harcourt Brace, 1998)


  1. #1 TheRidger
    April 25, 2006

    Yes, it’s lovely (my favorite of hers is Atlantis) … but as a translator I must say this: her poems are translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh. They deserve at least some of your praise.

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